Friday, February 19, 2021

Best New (to me!) Games of 2020

For the last decade or so, I’ve intermittently published my Best New (to me!) Games list each year… and, when I missed a year or two, added the missing lists to the most recent post.
However, before we get properly started with my list for 2020, we need to cover a few games that were excluded from the list for various reasons but still warrant attention being paid to them.

The Grey Area

I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the following games – these are all games that I played exactly one time prior to 2020.

Expedition to Newdale

This board game version of Pfister’s Oh My Goods was so enjoyable from my first play at a post-Essen weekend in 2019 that I used some of my Christmas money to pick up Oh My Goods and the Longdale expansion. (And I finally managed to get the Canyon Brook expansion post-Christmas!)

Lots of solo plays of Oh My Goods led to me picking up – no surprise – Expedition to Newdale. I’ve been working my way through the solo campaign and enjoying the blend of careful planning and luck of the draw the characterizes this series.

It’s a Wonderful World

The same post-Essen weekend also involved my first play of It’s A Wonderful World… and this one proved to be a hit with my sons as well as a very good solo game. I like the combination of 7 Wonders-ish drafting and resource management… and I’m really looking forward to the expansions coming out early in 2021. (There’s also a It’s a Wonderful Kingdom on the way… which I know almost nothing about.)

Terraforming Mars

I first played Terraforming Mars nearly three years ago – and while I really liked it, I didn’t think that my sons would enjoy it enough to get it to the table. But I decided to take the plunge in 2020 due to (a) very positive reviews from the solo gaming community, and (b) my boys being older. Success! The game works very well solo and the boys liked it better than I would have imagined. Over the last six months, I’ve picked up the expansions (I think Prelude should have come in the base box), the Broken Token insert set (include player boards with recessed spaces), and, thanks to a gamer friend (hi, Will… remember to feed your people!), a KS pledge for the 3D terrain.

Expansions of Note

Sometimes, I’ve put expansions under #10 on a list as a group… this year, I decided to break them out. Expansions specific to a game on the list (see:) will be dealt with under their entry.

Downforce: Wild Ride

I actually think this second set of maps is better than the first expansion… and that’s not just because we helped playtest the “zoo” map. There is something delightfully chaotic about the island map with the jumps that has delighted almost everyone who has played it.

Marvel Champions: A Whole Bunch of Stuff

I’m not even going to try and list all of the Marvel Champions packs that were released this year… the expanded list of heroes and the greater variety of villains made the game even more playable. I’ve been using some of the deck builds from the online community of Marvel Champions fans… since my enjoyment of the game is not in the tweaking of decks but in the play of the game. 

Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars

This expansion takes the Monsters & Minions expansion one step farther… and in the process, makes a good game even better. It both adds variety to the game but also gives you more options – something the base game was a little weak on. I wasn’t willing to spring for the fancy box in the KS, but the game itself is really enjoyable with 1-3 players.

Unmatched: Cobble & Fog, Buffy, and Little Red & Beowulf

Part of the charm of the Unmatched system is the expandable nature… and there were THREE new boxes this year! All of them can are stand-alone versions of the game as well as playable with the other sets in the series.

Cobble & Fog adds two different British-themed maps and a set of characters that feels like it’s right out of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This is probably the most “advanced” of the boxes, with 3 of the 4 characters trickier to play than some of the earlier boxes. (I love it – but it wouldn’t be the place I’d suggest players to start.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer does a splendid job of conveying the fighting styles and character quirks of the Buffyverse… while I’m sad that Oz and Cordelia didn’t make it into the box, the new maps and the well-thought-out decks are a lot of fun.

Right before Christmas, Little Red & Beowulf appeared. This two player box has only one map… but it adds doors and two GREAT decks to the system.

Note: my sons and I were playtesters in 2020 for the announced Unmatched: Marvel boxes that are coming this summer. We’re still mostly sworn to secrecy… but I love me some Squirrel Girl. Just sayin’…

Honorable Mentions

A few games that deserves a mention – but that didn’t quite make the top ten cut. They are in alphabetical order.

Little Town

Highly recommended by folks who admire the Euros of the late 90s… and they were spot on. It’s a pretty straightforward “place workers to get resources or build buildings” – but the interaction with other players is really interesting and even the same set of building tiles can generate very different games depending on who’s playing.


I don’t need to own this one… but it’s a splendid cooperative design with scads of replayability. The push-your-luck mechanic of choosing based on the backs of the cards gives just enough look-ahead while keeping the players on their toes.

Pan Am

An economic worker placement game that, like Little Town, feels like a modern take on the Euro games of the last 90s. It uses the Evo/Amun Re/Vegas Showdown auctions and combines them with route building and a nice variety of situational events that keep the game fresh.

Red Alert: Space Fleet Combat

Memoir ‘44… in space! My older son got the whole KS set for Christmas and we had a blast playing it. It takes a big table (barely fits on our 6 person gaming table) but it has amazing table presence, even unpainted. (Note: I might have had something to do with him receiving such a gift.)

Stuffed Fables

We have just scratched the surface of this delightful cooperative game of stuffed toys defending their little girl from the evil that lurks under the bed. The storybook format for board and rules works MUCH better here than in The Princess Bride game released this year.

Best New (to me!) Games of 2020

#10: Under Falling Skies

Czech Games Editions did an excellent job of taking a simple 9-card solitaire game and turning it into a very involving solitaire game in a box, complete with a well-thought-out campaign mode. My full review is on the Opinionated Gamers website.

#9: Sanctum

Another CGE game… like their previous hit, Adrenaline, it’s a board game take on a video game genre. In this case, it’s Diablo: The Board Game. Kill monsters to get equipment and experience in order to go after the big bad at the end of the game. There is very little direct interaction (except for which monsters you draft to fight)… but the game is still fascinating. We like it best with 2 players. (This is the first of six games in my top ten that weren’t released in 2020.)

#8: Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade

Note: I assisted in editing the final rules for this game… so I might be a big prejudiced. Still, it’s a unique roll-n-write that actually feels like pinball. I like the Dragon table best of all, with the Cyberhack table a close second. (WizKids recently announced a new stand-alone second game in the series for 2021.)

#7: Champions of Midgard

Yes, it’s similar to Lords of Waterdeep… but it’s easier to read the board and cards, there seem to be more pathways to victory, and I just had more fun playing it. It’s possible that the plethora of expansions available may have swayed my opinion… that and winning my first game of Midgard. I’m looking to this hitting the table again with a full complement of players (#2 of the games not released in 2020.)

#6: Civilization: A New Dawn

The previous EGG and FFG takes on the Civ video game as a board game left me cold… but this newest attempt by Fantasy Flight gives me the same vibe as their third edition of Runebound. In both cases, they figured out a simple mechanic that enabled the game to be cleaner to teach and play. In A New Dawn, it’s the sliding row of cards that get more powerful the longer you don’t use them… or when you use your technology points to upgrade them to better versions. (#3 of the games not released in 2020.)

#5: Warp’s Edge

My other favorite solitaire space alien fighting game – which I reviewed back in October. This bag builder is smooth as silk – even if you’re getting clobbered by the aliens. (I still haven’t beat a Level 4 mothership.) Note: I sprung for the Kickstarter set of nice chips and a playmat – both of which make it even m
ore enjoyable to play. (And there’s also an expansion which makes a tricky game even harder, if that’s your thing.)

#4: The 7th Continent

We got the “classic” set from Serious Poulp in the middle of quarantine… and promptly spent hours exploring, backtracking, and dying horrible deaths. It’s a clever system that can be overwhelming… but it has a great “save” mechanic that lets you pick up where you left off (sort of) in your adventure. Note: box is bigger than it looks in this picture. (#4 of the games not released in 2020.)

#3: The Taverns of Tiefenthal

My boys both describe this as “gamer Quacks”… and I don’t think they’re entirely wrong. There are trickier decisions here, especially as you add the included expansion modules into the game. The thing that keeps me coming back is the opportunity to chain together clever plays by the order in which you resolve actions. (#5 of the game not released in 2020.)

#2: Silver & Gold

A flip-n-write with cards you write on doesn’t sound like much, but it’s been a hit both with my gamer boys and my non-gamer wife. Can’t ask for much more than that in a game that is truly portable and would make a great “waiting for your food” game (once we can hang out in restaurants again). (The final game not released in 2020.)

#1: Lost Ruins of Arnak

Dripping with theme and gorgeous artwork… filled with Euro-y decisions… no direct conflict but plenty of chances to beat someone to a good location… plays quickly and cleanly… multiple ways to pursue victory… what’s not to love? (Oh, did I mention there’s a second more difficult board on the back of the main board… and a great solo mode?!)

Looking Ahead

I will not be surprised if Return to Dark Tower ends up on this list next year… as well as Dice Realms (which I was hoping would be released last year but am hoping against hope will make it in 2021).

  • I received review copies of Lost Ruins of Arnak, Super-Skill Pinball, Under Falling Skies, and Unmatched: Buffy.
  • This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

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